The Refugees in Towns project collects and commissions case studies of urban settings (towns, cities or sub-areas of cities) in which refugees or internally displaced people have been living for more than two years. The goal is to develop a database of case studies exploring the experience of urban displacement from the perspective of both the refugees and the town.  Each case study explores how the presence of refugees has led to political, social, and economic change in the town and describes the experience of the refugees themselves, focused on whether and why they have thrived or struggled.

The project is divided regionally into:

  • Refugees in American Towns (RAT) focused on refugee resettlement in North American towns (including Mexico, the U.S., and Canada)
  • Refugees in Towns (RIT) focused on urban areas in transit countries (such as Libya, Mexico or Greece) or countries of first asylum (such as Sudan, Lebanon or Turkey)

This project explores the following three sets of questions. The research questions will evolve as the project does.

Mapping the refugee population

  1. What is the distribution and size of different refugee communities in the town?
  2. How has the refugee population changed over time? Have refugees moved from other parts of the country to join the anchor community?
  3. Are refugees clustered in particular areas, or distributed evenly throughout the city? Why does this pattern occur?

The refugee experience

  1. Livelihoods and Income: How do refugees decide how to support themselves? What are their sources of income and support? What are their financial obligations to home countries? What are their debts?
  2. Political organization: Have refugees become politically active? What kinds of mobilization have occurred? What kinds of social and political networks have emerged?
  3. Integration: How do refugees define integration? How do refugees view their integration experience in the town?  What factors do they consider important in enabling or preventing integration?
  4. Attitudes about the future: How do refugees see their futures? What do they want for their children? Do they plan to stay, go elsewhere, return home? Has there been any return movement?
  5. Social networks: How do refugees connect to others nationally and globally? How do these networks evolve?

The urban impact

  1. What economic impact has the refugee community has on the town?
  2. How do locals perceive the refugees?
  3. What has been the impact on governance? How has the town government responded?

We want to hear the voices of people living and working in towns! We encourage refugees, aid workers, or long-time town residents to author case studies in partnership with Tufts graduate students. Case studies can be conducted under the auspices of the RAT-RIT project, in collaboration with Tufts and Karen Jacobsen, or a case study can be conducted independently, and submitted to be part of the RAT-RIT project. The case studies are publicly available through the website.

For more information contact: Karen Jacobsen at